A mass was held this week in a Catholic church in the southern French city of Trèbe to honor a national hero.
A terrorist hijacked a car, and shot at a group of police officers that were fitness training, jogging along the side of the road., Then the lone terrorist came to a small supermarket where, among others, he took a young female hostage. The kidnapper demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the 2015 Paris jihadist attacks that killed 130 people. Lieutenant Colonel Arnaud Beltrame, former officer in the French army, was the first on the scene. He disarmed himself, discretely set his live cell phone on the counter while beginning negotiations with the terrorist. The officer then offered to exchange places with the young woman. The terrorist accepted and the grateful woman fled.
Through the police officer’s phone, the special police forces outside could hear everything that was happening in the store. They heard the negotiations and the terrorist stabbing the policeman several times. When the terrorist started shooting police reinforcements stormed the scene and killed the aggressor. Arnaud died later of his wounds in a local hospital.
I find this story truly heroic. I keep imagining the officer’s wife meeting the woman he changed place with. What would she say of this great sacrifice? Would they develop a relationship? Would there be bitterness, friendship, a sort of bound between them?
We are approaching the season of Passover. In the days of the Jewish Temple, people believed that they owed their salvation, their escape from spiritual death, to the killing of a lamb. Thousands of lambs were killed in one day. On that day, the Temple looked more like a slaughterhouse than a place of worship. How were these lambs killed? By the slicing of the carotid and tracche, the same way that incidentally, doctors concluded that this heroic officer who took the place of another was killed. Another kind of first-responder!
This is something that happened one day in the old City of Jerusalem. A rabbi was walking home from the store when he saw a child falling from his bike. The face of the child must have hit a rock as blood profusely flowed from a big gash on his face. The rabbi ran to pick up the child and quickly brought him to the nearby hospital to get stitched. An elderly woman saw the rabbi running and said, ”Don't worry rabbi, God is in control and won't let anything bad happen to that child!” Then she gave a closer look at the face of the child and realized that it was her own grandson. Suddenly it was she who was frantically running and calling for help.
It is so easy to comfort others from a external position. That is why as a chaplain, though I have seen a thing or two in my life, I do not like to say, “I understand” or, “I feel your pain.” We have to stay in the “exterior” in order to bring comfort but as such we cannot truly know what someone really feels.
And that is why also I think that first-responders are amazing. Though in the “exterior”, they respond day after day to tragic life-threatening situations with an “insider” sense of urgency. For them, it is personal.
I attended the drill on PTSD this month. The instructor told us how first- responders carry with them all the things that they see and hear. These sights and sounds always remain with them and unless they have a way of pouring it out of themselves, it can negatively affect them.
These people are often volunteers. They don't have to do it. Many of the calls they respond to are accidents, but many of them are also situations where people's carelessness and unhealthy habits are at fault. In any case, the first-responders respond just the same. As such, also in any case, they voluntarily take upon themselves the consequences of our health issues or unhealthy living in order to rescue us; a burden that will negatively affect their lives if they don’t learn how to put it down.
I thought this to be good “food for thought” as we enter the season when we remember the sacrificed Passover Lamb reminiscent of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. How fitting is the connection with the events that happened in Jerusalem 2000 ago at this time of the year. Indeed, a time when someone, as the true, First-Responder, also voluntarily took upon himself the burdens of our health issues and foolish living.
Kudos to our first-responders!
When I was in school in France we were made to memorize Aesop's fables. These Greek fables had been adapted to the French language by a poet called Jean de La Fontaine. La Fontaine lived during the reign of Louis the XIV who brought France to it’s post-medieval zenith.
La Fontaine used much material from ancient Greece and Asia for his writings. He transformed these prose and poetry into gentle political satires that held a mirror to the hierarchical society of his days. One such fable is one of a strong and mighty tall-standing oak having a discussion with the weak bending-to-every-wind reed in the river below it. The oak would jeer at the reed. “ Look at you!” he would say, “You bend at the slightest breeze. Now to the right, now to the left. How can you live this way?! Look at me strong and tall. Nothing moves me!”
In life I have noticed that Someone always hears our proud boastings, especially when they done against the weak.
As the wind heard the proud oak, it blew, and blew, and blew while the self-assured tree stood strong and firm. All the while, the reed bent lower and lower to the ground, to the point where he would even embrace the shape of the ground under it. The oak laughed and laughed at the reed’s weakness, mocking it for its apparent lack of strength till a sudden increase in the wind uprooted it. All the while, the bending reed was left unharmed.
As the oak looked around with surprise, he remarked to the reed, “I am tall and strong, but you are small and slender, how did the wind knock me over but leave you untouched?”
The reed responded, “The wind will blow and it can’t be stopped, but those who are proud and stubborn are unable to withstand its assault, however those who are humble and adaptable are able to continue to stand after the turmoil has passed.”
Here is a great reminder. Life brings many challenges and we live in turbulent times; but those who seem to cope best aren’t the rigid, proud and dogmatic, but the malleable, humble and pragmatic.
During an interview on CBS This Morning, TV show host and comic Stephen Colbert explained that fear prevents us from thinking straight. He quoted his mother who often said to him, “When you can laugh, you can think!” The idea here is that you cannot laugh and be afraid at the same time, so laughing implies that you have conquered the fear that paralyses you and keeps you from thinking.
Fear is a very interesting subject. I read an article a long time ago that used a dog attack as an example. The article proposed the notion that the dog barks because he can sense the fear in the human. It is vicious cycle. The more the dog barks, the more the human is afraid, and the more the human is afraid, the more the dog barks, all because the dog believe that a human who is afraid will hurt him to protect himself. The article then proposes that it is better to ignore the loud scary barks, the growls, and the show of teeth, and go toward the dog as if we didn’t fear him.
I have since put this notion to the test. I used to do fundraisers door-to-door. I encountered my share of dogs, some less friendly than others. I knew the worst thing I could do was run. They have four legs and I have only two! So when a dog would come racing towards me, I would immediately face it and even at times walk towards it. Surprised, it would then stop and bark all the louder, in no uncertain terms showing me what he intended to do to me. At those times, one thing I made sure of, is to never, ever, ever, let him get behind me. It required me to constantly dance around on my feet as he would try to get me from behind (which confirms that he was afraid to attack me face to face). It got a bit hairy when one time I had two dobermans after me. The tactic never failed. Eventually the dog would calm down and go away, unless of course the animal was trained to attack face to face.
Here is what is important to understand about fear. As in the case of the dog, fear holds its power within us, in how much we give in to it, in how much we respond to it. But like the Wizard of Oz, much of it might just be scary sights and sound to intimidate us. It pops like a balloon, vanishes away like a bad dream as soon as we face it showing that we don’t buy the show.
US President FDR must have understood and believed that as he is known to have said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself”
I saw in interesting documentary the other day. It was about a violin maker and how he chose the wood to make his instruments.
He says that wood has a voice; that he can hear the wood’s resonance and its music. It reminded me of another article I read a long time ago about another luthier. He had searched all his life for wood that would serve for making violins with a certain beautiful and haunting resonance. At last he succeeded when he came into possession of wood gathered from the timberline, the last stand of the trees of the Rockies, 12,000 feet above sea level. Up there where the winds blow so fiercely and steadily that the bark to windward has no chance to grow, where the branches all point one way, and where a tree to live must stay on its knees all through its life, that is where the world's most resonant wood for violins is born and lives and dies.
What beautiful imagery we have here: beautiful music conceived from a life of tribulations. Wordsworth said, “Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.” The problem though is that when going through trials some of us don’t sing, we just make selfish indignant complaining noises.
The trials, the tribulations and the tragedies life endows upon us are made to teach our hearts a new song, a song of care, of love, of humility, and of generosity. The crushing of our hopes and dreams is the process which creates the fragrance of empathy, a very expensive fragrance which can only be conceived in the vessel of our broken hearts allowing it to seep onto others.
Life is not always kind to us, but like trees in the Rockies, may we let the wind that would uproot us; the wind that keeps us barkless and vulnerable; the wind that pushes us down on our knees; create in us beautiful music to soothe the heart of others.
Here is the documentary I saw:
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